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Thanks and see you in the not too distant future

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I don’t have time to write this blog post. Paradoxically, it’s precisely because I don’t have time to write it that I feel the need to.

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Me, on top of a bin. The juxtaposition could only be improved if I actually got in it.

Let me great straight to the point and say that after a decade of writing Dadbloguk and producing content for its social media channels, I am taking a break. That break may be a few months or it may turn into something longer. At this stage I simply don’t know.

So what’s going on? Why am I, a self-confessed lover of all things blog-related, taking a break? To answer that we have to take a trip back to last September. Back then I started making enquiries with various universities about “topping up” my old Higher National Diploma so I could convert it to a bachelor’s degree and retrain for a career in the education sector. You’ll note I have not said “work as a teacher” as that isn’t necessarily my end game. Education is a much broader career than simply working in a classroom.

At that stage I had a vague plan to maybe start studying at some point in the next couple of years. What I hadn’t planned for was an unexpected administrative issue that forced me to start studying immediately or else go back to the beginning and start a degree from Year One. I don’t need to tell you which option I chose.

I absolutely love studying. It’s been a crazy 90-degree turn, but I would recommend doing something new and different to anyone in mid-life if they possibly can. It’s forced me to think differently, opened my mind to new ideas and got me developing new skills. It’s proving to be an awesome experience.

One thing I must address is the irony of me studying for a degree when I have made it very clear I have some serious concerns about Britain’s higher education system. I stand by what I’ve said previously: I think youngsters are put under far too much pressure to attend university in their teens without exploring other options. University is also eye wateringly expensive, even for someone like myself studying remotely. It’s a great experience and is right for some people, but should university be seen as a natural milestone in a young person’s life? No, it should not, yet that’s exactly what it has become. Not simply a milestone, but an expensive milestone for the youthful which is therefore exclusive and does absolutely nothing for inclusivity within society. Education should be seen as a lifelong process and a degree taken at the appropriate time, not at the age of 18. Anyway, moving on. . .

Aside from my studies, I started applying for some entry level jobs within the education sector and I have been offered one. Rather like studying for a degree, a year ago this was not an immediate part of the plan but it feels right. Of course I can’t work, study and produce blog and social media content. It’s too much and so for a “wee while”, as my glorious Northern Irish grandmother would have said, I am taking a break. That said, I have never been one to keep my opinions to myself and I have something to say. Well, a few things actually but let’s start with the big stuff.

If there is one thought I want you to take away from this blog post it’s this: The world seems to have accepted that men can look after young children, but it’s not yet got used to the idea that fathers can and should play an active and positive role in raising older children. There’s almost no public recognition of the fact fathers are involved in raising tweens and teens, little academic research into this stage of fatherhood, almost no media recognition of it and, worst of all, zero support for dads raising kids in the mid and later years. This is going to take a little explanation so stick with me.

What I am about to write is potentially going to sound arrogant. I don’t care. I’ve never been a blogger who does it to seek self-validation (you can spot them a mile off) or popularity (their content is always dull). This is also my last blog post for a while so I might as well make it memorable. What’s this opinion I have? Well dearest reader, I am ahead of my time.

As any decent blogger would, I have kept a close eye on the blog posts that people really engage with. As my children get older, the challenges we have faced as a family have become more teenage in nature. This teenage-focused content has proven to be a bit less popular than the stuff I used to write about breast feeding or my kids going to nursery. I can’t rule out the idea that after 10 years you lot have all had enough of me. This is entirely plausible and I wouldn’t blame you, but I think there’s a bit more to it than that (Talking about blog posts people really engage with, this one about male thrush has always been spectacularly popular with my readers, a fact I love with a capital L).

Here’s an idea for you that goes some way to demonstrating what I mean. Go look at the parenting section in any library or book shop and you will notice two things. Firstly, the books available for mothers are more numerous, cover every age and stage of childhood development and are written in a broad variety of styles. Books aimed at fathers, meanwhile, will fall into two camps. There are the turgid and stereotyped “ha ha ha I’m a dad of young kids and I’m really funny” or the more serious “help with fatherhood up to the age of five. . .but you’re on your own once they start Key Stage One” books. Often, the books straddle both camps: “Ha ha ha ha ha, I’m a really whacky, Instagrammable dad with young kids and I’m going to offer loads of advice about changing nappies in a really funny and f*****g sweary way. Ha ha ha, I’m really f*****g funny me….Woah, look at the mountain of s*** in this nappy”. I will guarantee you will find nothing at all, aimed at dads with older kids. Book publishers need to wake up to this because they’re stuck somewhere between the 1950s and 1980s.

Simon Kettlewell’s Eternity Leave, a loosely autobiographical book based on his experiences as a stay at home dad, was ground-breaking in that it very realistically (for a work of fiction) covered the issues he faced raising both young and old children. Seriously, go and read it, it’s a superb exploration of fatherhood and the alienation stay at home dads tolerate every day.

Getting back to the matter in hand, as part of my degree studies, I have studied a module looking at the sociology of family life. It’s opened my eyes to an issue that had passed me by. As a result of my blogging activities, I have, on occasion, spoken to academics or participated in academic research focused on fatherhood. As I moved in these circles (albeit on the fringes of these circles), I think this gave me an unrealistic idea about the amount of sociological research looking at dads and the fatherhood experience. As an undergraduate student studying this subject, I have gained a completely different perspective. I have been taken aback, shocked actually, at how much of this research completely overlooks fathers while focusing on mothers.

That said, I simply can’t go any further without mentioning Paul Hodkinson and Rachel Brooks’ book: Sharing Care: Equal and Primary Carer Fathers, which is a brilliant study of the experiences of men such as myself who do the majority of the childcare in their relationship. Yes, this research focuses on the early years, but noises have been made about a follow-up looking at fathers with older children. I hope it becomes a reality because that research is desperately needed. See also Dr Jasmine Kelland’s book Caregiving Fathers in the Workplace: Organisational Experiences and the Fatherhood Forfeit which looks at the challenges facing working dads. Dr Kelland is also a superb champion of equality and both fathers’ and mothers’ rights in the workplace so do look out for her work.

Finally and arguably most importantly, where does the father of older children go when he is need of support? Look at all the interventions and support groups that are available for dads and they are, pretty much exclusively, aimed at dads with kids under the age of five. Yes, there are a small number of exceptions, but they’re usually geographically limited.

This was brought home to me during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m not going to go into details, suffice it to say that on two occasions I found myself needing help with a couple of common, day to day fatherhood issues. If I had been needing assistance with a child who had croup or if I had concerns about my child starting nursery, there were any number of dad-focused or parenting focused support groups or services open to dads that I could have approached. Hold on to this thought as I’m going to deviate for a moment before returning to explain where I eventually got help from (and prepare yourself for a surprise ‘cos it ain’t where you think).

Paradoxically, the increasing number of support groups for dads of young kids is a sign of success. If I think back a decade to when I started on my dad blogging journey (and not that long after I became a dad), there was nothing like the amount of support available to fathers as there is today. It’s over the past decade that dad-focused groups have sprung up or mum-focused groups have been opened up to be inclusive of dads. These advances are to be welcomed. Seriously, any new dads reading this, we live in an imperfect world but 10 years ago fathers really were seen as spare parts in the family. We have thankfully come a long way since then. Further to go, yes, but we’re in a better place.

This, I think, is one of the overlooked successes of the Shared Parental Leave (SPL) policy introduced by the coalition Government in 2015. There may not be a vast number of men taking long-periods of leave following the birth of a child, but the introduction of SPL massively changed the narrative around fatherhood. Men were, at long last, recognised as caregivers in their own right and did not require a woman to validate their caregiving potential. That said, let me get back to the lack of support available to fathers of older children. My prediction is that the current generation of dads with toddlers will address the need for more father-focused support for dads with older kids as their children grow up. For my generation of dads, those who became dads in the years immediately preceding the introduction of SPL. . . well, it was us who got fatherhood on the agenda of policymakers. The subsequent generations have a different challenge, to get the world to appreciate fatherhood is a lifelong journey, not one that ends at the gates of primary school. That’s why I said I am ahead of my time, because I’ve been writing about the mid years of childhood from the perspective of a main caregiving father. I increasingly note this is of less interest to many than being a stay at home dad to young kids (as I used to be). I shall watch with interest as younger generations of dads progress through their parenting journey.

Getting back to when I needed assistance during the lockdowns, I was utterly stumped and did not know where a dad whose kids’ ages are in double figures could turn for help. I could not think of a group or any kind of intervention where I could get the assistance my family needed. After employing some creative thinking, I found support and it was brilliant. Where did this support come from? Prepare yourself because I’m probably about to surprise you: The church.

On one occasion, an enterprising Anglican priest I know had set up a WhatsApp group for parents facing my particular situation. As COVID rules were relaxed, we were able to meet in person and this assistance was priceless. On the other occasion, a different Anglican priest was able to put me in touch with an expert who – just 48 hours later – provided superb advice with the challenge we were facing at that time. Where no suitable support was available from the secular world, the church was able to help and the speed at which I received this voluntary assistance was staggering. I’ll leave you to ponder that thought.

Let me spell it out: Children get older and the support fathers need changes as their children reach different developmental milestones. Added to that, a lot of the challenges faced by both mums and dads in the early days are very similar: Changes to your relationship as you adjust to parenthood, breastfeeding, interrupted sleep, potty training and so on. As youngsters develop their own characters and are steadily exposed to the world outside the family home, the challenges become unique and the support required has to be tailored, not generic. This is a lesson fatherhood support groups are yet to learn and act on.

I want to make clear the following are not issues my family has faced, but they are issues other families with teenaged kids I am close to have. Where does dad go if he has a child with an eating disorder? Or if a child is self-harming or planning to run away? One thing I will say is that the step up from primary to secondary school is huge. I don’t see any discussion or dialogue about this coming from fatherhood support networks. I can’t ever recall a dad speaking at a conference or panel discussion or a webinar taking place where a dad spoke about the transition from primary to secondary school despite the fact it’s a huge transition for any family. It strikes me we have all got used to the fact dads can and usually are heavily involved with their kids in the early years, but once they reach a certain age, bam, all the parenting gets dumped on mum (in heterosexual relationships at least). As a result, the support and interventions are focused on helping her when dad might need support and help also. Not only that, but if dad isn’t heavily involved with parenting his older kids, the question needs to be asked why he isn’t? Is the lack of support a sign men aren’t interested in parenting in the middle and later years of childhood, or have men given up by this stage because they’re spent several years receiving signals it’s a woman’s role? It’s an interesting question to consider.

In summary, interventions, help and support is lacking for dads of older kids. Whether you agree with me or not, that’s the main point I want you take away from this blog post. Okay okay, there are a couple of other points I want to make but I’ll keep them brief.

There are few issues I need to address about my online existence. I never actually intended my blog to become quite such a major part of my life, it just sort of ran away with me and the more I did it the more I loved it. Here’s a little story for you. When I started blogging, I gave myself three months to achieve “something.” I didn’t define what that “something” was but within the timeframe I set, I found myself at a charity reception at No.10 Downing Street as a guest of Mumsnet (several years before COVID I should add. No partygate fines for me!). At that point I knew I had to continue. Several years later, I can look over my shoulder and say I have been on an amazing journey and had some awesome opportunities to promote positive fatherhood and positive masculinity, two things I set out to do from the start.  

This blogging journey has taken me all the way to Australia (twice) and given me the opportunity to promote the awesome work of individuals like Malala and Ziauddin Yousafzai (Do also read this interview with journalist and dad Ryan Chilcote, a fluent Russian speaker who specialises in covering developments in the Russia Federation. I recommend it because this blog post has been enormously popular since Russia invaded Ukraine). I have also made a fool of myself on numerous occasions but that has been part of the fun of getting into blogging in the early days. Back then it was like the Wild West and everyone was learning and making it up as they went along. There’s no question things have changed. Some of that change is good, such as increased regulation which is to be welcomed. Some of that change is not so good.

As for the negative, social media is not the place it once was and I have lost sleep thinking about it over recent months (seriously, I have had trouble sleeping while mulling all this over). Once upon a time social media was a place for connecting with people, sharing ideas and measured debate. It tended to be those open to being challenged and open to new ideas who used social media. Since then, the population of social media users has grown massively. Everybody has a social media account these days and everybody thinks their opinion is the most important. It’s a harsh reality, but an opinion formed about a clickbait news story after drinking four cans of Stella Artois does not carry the same weight as a sober assessment from someone with a PhD or lifelong expertise in a subject. Alas, social media is awash with metaphorical Stella Artois drinkers and it is stifling sensible discussion and debate with disastrous consequences. I recall writing a blog post with some heartfelt reflections following the EU referendum result back in 2016. I deleted that blog post a couple of years ago and there is no way I would write something like that now. I’m thick skinned and have little regard for what people I have never met think about me, but the absolute hail storm of hatred I would unleash upon myself for expressing such opinions today means I have, for several years now, self censored the content I produce. Social media was once considered the protector of free speech but it’s become a monster and the tech companies are responsible for decimating free speech. I find myself seriously questioning if social media’s days as a positive force have passed.

I’m rambling again, aren’t I? Sorry, I can’t help it! Anyway, one of the most important things I need to do is say a big thank you to various people, so here goes.

I need to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way with this blog. I can’t and won’t name everyone because I will forget somebody, but I have to thank my incredibly tolerant wife and children plus my equally tolerant agents, Leigh at The Artists Partnership and Kaye at Andromeda Talent. Thanks also to everyone who has helped promote my work and worked with me on a commercial basis over the years (you have fed my family and paid for my kids’ school uniform). My biggest thanks has to go to my readers, each and every one of you. Your engagement and support has made it all worthwhile. I want to reserve an extra special thanks for everyone who has read something I’ve written or seen one of my videos and disagreed with me. That may sound counterintuitive, but in this age of cancel culture where we’re all supposed to agree with everything we all say, I want you to know your input has definitely spurred me on. I must also thank the guy who sent me the unsolicited full-frontal nude. You provided my wife and I with a jolly good laugh because you had so blatantly photoshopped the image. As a side note, in all my years doing this, I have only ever received the one such pic whereas it is a constant complaint of female content creators. Fascinating innit? That said, I did once receive a death threat. Right, final paragraph, here we go. . .

To quote Dame Vera Lynn, we’ll meet again. I don’t know where, don’t know when. For now, however, I am going to concentrate on my studies and follow in the footsteps trodden by a vast number of women (and also a few men), retraining for the next phase of my life, one where the parenting won’t be quite so intensive and I won’t be needed in the family home quite as much. Thanks again for all your support and remember: Gestation and lactation are the only things men cannot do as parents.

9 thoughts on “Thanks and see you in the not too distant future”

  1. Such an exciting stage in your life, and it sounds like there’s lots of opportunities. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up doing some post grad research into dads with older kids and place in society or such like, or write a book for the gap in the market once you’ve got some time. Will miss reading your posts for however long your break lasts. All the best for your studies, and the new job. I’m in awe of anyone who studies post 30s especially when they’ve got children. I did a 12 week market research diploma on the side of my job at 28 and it nearly killed me, and that was pre-children!

  2. Karin Tischler

    Thank you for all your amazing work and advocacy for everything dads, parenting, flexible work and more, John! I wish you all the very best with your studies and your next steps in life & career! Greetings from Canada, Karin!

  3. Hey John. I’ll miss reading your posts – and this one was a particular belter too – but am really excited for you! Much as blogging took you on an unexpected journey, this change in direction has so much wonderful potential that I know you’ll seize. I look forward to seeing where it takes you. Stay in touch!

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